Learning to Play Your Instrument

Posted on 4 September 2016

Acting as an instrument


For a professional musician, knowing their instrument is second-nature. They know just how hard to blow into a mouth piece, caress a string or stroke a key in order to get exactly the sound they need.

You might think actors have little in common with musicians when it comes to this, but for an actor, you and your acting ability are you instrument. Learn to play that instrument, to control exactly how you use yourself and your abilities and you can create far more subtle, nuanced and real performances that are ultimately much more powerful. But how do actors learn how to play their instruments?


Freeing your instrument

In our everyday lives we all tend to learn from a young age to hide how we are feeling a lot of the time. We are told that being too loud or too happy or too upset is “annoying” or “attention seeking” and we learn to hold in our emotions and downplay them to fit in.

Actors need to unlearn this social conditioning in order to be able to start expressing their emotions more freely. This does not mean that actors need to be hugely overemotional about everything all the time. Rather, they need to stop being afraid to show emotion and learn to consciously control exactly how much emotion is appropriate in any given scene.

One of the key techniques method actors use to overcome this societal pressure is private moment exercise. This revolves around taking an activity you would normally do in private and doing it in public instead. This starts to get you used to the idea of acting in public in the same way you would if nobody was watching, meaning you can start to express yourself more freely without worrying about the judgement of others.

Another important element of freeing your instrument is letting go of the learned behaviours and tensions we all carry with us. The founder of method acting, Lee Strasberg, invented relaxation exercises to help his students let go of their normal ways of holding themselves and their personal emotional states to create a blank slate on which to start building a performance.


“The idea is to get the physical body, the emotional body and the mental body into neutral. Then you should be able to hear through the voice what’s actually happening inside.” Jack Nicholson


Training your instrument

Once you have your instrument in neutral and have let go of your need to behave in a “socially acceptable” way, you can begin to focus on actually training your instrument. Effectively you need to recondition yourself, honing and tuning your acting abilities to give you the best possibly range of acting “notes” that you can hit during a performance.

Method acting involves a number of different techniques which can help to shape your instrument. A lot of method acting revolves around using your memory to stimulate your emotions by recalling moments of strong emotion from your past. As such it makes sense to focus on improving your memory so you can remember key memories more accurately and vividly.

You also need to practice the core method acting techniques such as affective memory and sense memory so that using them becomes second nature to you when the time comes to perform. These allow you to produce real emotions on cue, an absolutely fundamental part of being a top-level actor.

You should also not overlook training your analytical skills as being able to analyse and interpret scripts is an absolutely key part of your acting skill set. Think of this as being like a musician knowing how to read music. You have to know how to read a script as an actor in order to know how to play your instrument.


Playing your instrument

Of course, ultimately all the preparation and fine tuning of your instrument is for nothing unless you can play it effectively. This is where method acting really comes into its own.

Techniques such as affective memory and sense memory don’t just allow you to produce great performances that feel totally real and engaging, they allow you to do this consistently and with minimum fuss. Other method acting techniques such as living moment-to-moment and the objects exercise mean you can keep performing convincingly under any circumstances.

This is the key to playing your instrument at a professional level. It’s not enough to be able to pull out a good performance when you happen to be in the right mood or feeling particularly inspired. You need to know how to inspire yourself every time you are called on to perform and deal with any problems in a professional manner without disruption to your performance.

The high level of training involved in method acting means you can rely on your instrument to work for you every time you need it and thus others can always rely on you to deliver a great performance.

This ability to reliably produce the goods on demand is what separates professionals from talented amateurs and is the real crux of learning your instrument as an actor. Once you have mastered the art of method acting, you can have confidence that you have a process in place that produces exactly the same exceptional results every time.


Learn to master your acting instrument in just one year

If you are serious about becoming a professional actor, you need to get the hang of acting as an instrument. At the Brian Timoney Actors’ Studio we provide world-leading method acting tuition to help our students master their instruments and take their acting to the next level.

Our 1-Year Ultimate Acting Programme is a complete guide to the art of method acting, giving you a thorough understanding of the various techniques involved, both in theory and practice. We also take our students through the business side of the industry so they come away with all the knowledge needed to go out and start finding work straightaway.

If you are tired of waiting for your professional acting dream to take off, then stop waiting. Apply for the 1-Year Ultimate Acting Programme today! To find out more or for general enquiries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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